Wonderful Ukrainians

It is amazing how in the short space of a week it is possible to feel so much love, hope and
affection for people that you have never met before.  I met many great people during this past week at the YMCA Youth Unify camp in Poland and was most deeply moved through the immense privilege of getting to know an amazing group of people from YMCA Ukraine – specifically Kiev, Lutsk, Odessa and Kharkiv.  They really ambushed me with their friendship and encouragement.  I wish to use this blog post for two simple reasons:

  1. To honour their faithfulness to their nation, the YMCA and, most importantly, to God.  They work tirelessly in their home towns sacrificing time, money and man
    y other things to serve young people.  Their hunger to understand and know Christ is inspiring.  Love and humility just pours out of them.
  2. To call you to pray for the nation of Ukraine which remains in the midst of such violence and a heartbreaking war.  This video shows four of the volunteers from YMCA Ukraine sing a haunting prayer for the peace of their nation. You may wish to use the song as a tool to lead you into praying for the peace of Ukraine.

You can protect children

Our leaders with responsibility for keeping our children safe in our communities are continuing to abdicate responsibility and are relying on children to protect themselves.

Yesterday another gang of men was found guilty of abuse, rape and prostituting girls in Aylesbury.  But the Director of Children’s Services in Buckinghamshire said – “We know a great deal more about Child Sexual Exploitation now, I hope young people…will have the same courage to come forward.”

We cannot put the responsibility on young people to come forward!  Abuse and slavery is manipulative and messy.  You cannot rely on victims to be able to process objectively what is happening to them and then know how to respond appropriately to raise a disclosure!

It is interesting that in the Bible, one of the problems Moses had in getting the people of Israel free from slavery in Egypt was that they wouldn’t listen to him ‘because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.’ (Exodus 6:9)  If as a society we care about children who are at risk of being sexually exploited then we must take responsibility for the problem.  Whoever you are you can equip yourself and those around you to be able to spot the signs that a child or a vulnerable adult may be being abused.

At the very least you can read this brief overview from the NHS which includes things you can do to prevent exploitation before it even happens.  The NSPCC has more information here. Don’t assume that other people are doing something about this.  You could be the person who spots the signs that a child in your street, school, church, family, or anywhere, is being exploited.

You could be even more proactive by volunteering your time to help at a local youth group or even opening up your home to a child or as a Host family for vulnerable teenagers.

Our children are children – we should take responsibility for protecting them.

YMCA Black Country Staff Awards 2014

Last week saw the announcement and presentation of the 2014 YMCA Black Country staff awards.  I was really proud to have two of the YMCA Open Door Team shortlisted for individual categories and to have the team shortlisted for Team of the Year.

We didn’t win Team of the Year, that deservedly went to the Walsall Housing Team who have worked so hard together to overcome some very challenging circumstances this year.  Nevertheless, it was great to be shortlisted and receive a bit of recognition – the team work incredibly hard and with great ability and compassion to deliver a fantastic service that enables 50 young people to stay in safe accommodation each night.

YMCA Open Door – Team of the Year Runners Up

Unfortunately, despite a tremendous record of recruiting Host families, fundraising and all round non-stop dedication, Rachael Taylor was only runner up in the Personal Achievement category.  But again deserved recognition to be shortlisted nonetheless and it was difficult to argue with Wolverhampton Nursery Manager, Charlie, being announced as winner.

Rachael Taylor – Personal Achievement Runner Up

However, despite these slight disappointments the rock of our Wolverhampton Supported Lodgings provision, Stanley Ifamene, was crowned Inspirational Colleague of the Year.  I was utterly delighted with this.  Stanley really is one of the most inspirational and exemplary humans I have ever met.  He works hard, cares with great attention and tenderness for the young people he is responsible for and, most importantly, he lives out every part and every moment of his life through his faith in Jesus.  He encourages me every time I see him, inspires me to greater performance and approaches every situation with a desire to give honour to God.  He is a true hero.

Stanley Ifamene – Inspirational Colleague of the Year Winner

It was a great fun evening.  The company was top quality and it was good to be reminded of the effective and wide reaching work that YMCA Black Country Group is responsible for.  The positive impact and influence of the organisation seems to be growing and building on the firm foundations of past generations.  The other award winners were James and Hashan who both work with great effort and enthusiasm in Aleksa’s nursery, and Tony who has worked persistently and tirelessly for years making sure the place doesn’t fall apart.  The final award was a Lifetime Achievement award for Board Members Eric and Brenda Moore who have given about 60 and 40 years voluntary service respectively to the YMCA.  That really was an inspiring and fitting end to the awards.  Looking forward to next year!

The Potential in Every Child

My good friend Rob shared this photo on facebook today:

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That’s powerful.  We need to accept that the collective knowledge of humanity will always be limited by the extent to which we turn a blind eye to poverty.

Maya Angelou said:

“My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy.  That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and more intelligent than college professors.”

That is why the hard work of teachers and college tutors in the poor parts of our towns and cities is so vital.  If you are a fantastic teacher than please think about working, or staying, in the school where you can influence children and young people who others might not give a chance to.  Your care and effort could literally change the world.

And the same goes for health workers, social workers, youth workers, the police etc. etc.   Anything you can do to pave the way for a young person to get stuck into their education is making society a better place.

Do you know any kids you can invest some time and love into?  Take a chance and go for it and you might end up changing their lives and yours.

The Book Thief

Running Rachael has started a great book club at work.  It’s great to be able to spend an extended lunch time with friends and colleagues* chatting about literature and life and generally relaxing in the middle of a hectic work day.

The latest offering that we have read is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  It really is a good one and before I go further I would thoroughly recommend it.  It is quirky and is written and edited with such innovation that your attention is kept and you remain eager to see how events will unfold.

The setting is intriguing as it portrays life in a regular German town with regular German people but during the surreal experiences of the Second World War.  For me the fascination in this is that in Britain we are so preoccupied with our perspective of the Second World War that we don’t think about what life would have been like in Germany and the book suggests that life was pretty hellish.  It wasn’t just air raids and rationing.  Germans had to deal with a nationalistic political fervour that demanded adherance and dolled out horrific consequences for those who did not make the right choices.

Liesel, the protagonist, is a delightful character who captures your heart from the off and takes you on a childhood journey of growth, survival, loss and love.  The concept of Death as narrator is ingenious and allows for an easy fluidity from story telling to philosophising.  Although tragic from the start the tone is heart warming and generates a real confidence in the potential of humanity in the midst of the absolute worst that our species has to offer.

Out of interest, the film adaption is out in cinemas in the next month or so starring Geoffrey Rush.

*The colleagues referred to are also  friends, I’m not suggesting some are friends and some are colleagues!

Friendship gives cancer a good beating at the YMCA

Today was a wonderful day at the YMCA as staff came together to put on a great morning of fabulous food and even better friendship.

Sadly it seems more true each year that each of us is affected by cancer.  And  it was as a result of the wicked claws of cancer that three people at the YMCA wanted to put on a Macmillan Coffee Morning.  When they all found out what the others were wanting to do and once they had put their heads together the result was brilliant.  People came in early, cooked breakfast for the whole staff team and loads of home baked cakes were brought in and sold (and eaten).

But better than any amount of money that was raised for Macmillan, which really is a worthy cause, was the sense of community and friendship that pervaded the building at Carters Green.  It was fun and moving to be together.  Two of our colleagues and friends who are living with cancer at the moment were able to come and visit and there was a great feel of togetherness.  Tears were shed, jokes shared, encouragement given and I am sure all were inspired.  I really felt the love of God among us, bringing unity and sticking one in the eye for cancer.

Well done to everybody who took time to make today possible.  It is a privilege to be part of the YMCA community.

The Mission Continues

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I returned home on Monday night from an incredible fortnight with the Mission Possible team for the YMCA Europe Festival in Prague.  It was a wonderful time and when I woke up on Tuesday morning and made my way into work it felt like I was missing a limb.

The one thing that made it so fulfilling was that the entire time with the team seemed to be non-stop worship of God.  Whether we were eating, team building, planning, singing, dancing, discussing, acting, preaching, playing, laughing or crying God was in the centre of it all and so it just felt good and right the whole time.

So as I drove to work feeling a definite sense of loss I realised, as amazing as the people were and as much as I am bereaved by the absence of their companionship, it was actually the tangible image of God shining through them that seemed to be slipping away and was causing this sadness.

Of course, God is not fleeting and is still to be found in the slightly more mundane of life.  It just takes a little more effort not to be distracted by the less meaningful and to continue living purposefully in the presence of God.  I had a beautiful evening with 5 Black Country friends from church last night, again because God was in the middle of what we were doing.

The truth is that Mission Possible continues wherever God is acknowledged and I look forward to endless more Mission Possible experiences on my own, with my own wonderful family, with my lovely colleagues and with my inspiring church.

I still miss my friends though.